Tag: ethics

Stephen Curry lights up basketball world

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

Curry Fever overtook me quietly as I sat watching my first game of Golden State Warriors playoff basketball. Before the game ended I had experienced a flashback to my days in Illinois and the Michael Jordan hysteria that gripped so many of us in the 1990s. Stephen Curry is an amazing basketball player.

I’m not a big NBA fan; it’s casual fandom for me. After Jordan, the game bored me. Then the Dallas Mavericks captured some magic, if less beautiful and exciting, but then their franchise let the guys who won them a championship go. My interest waned. I pulled for the Spurs to beat the Heat last year, but that meant watching one series of NBA playoffs out of oh so many games.

Then along comes Curry, and this marginal fan is re-energized. Sports Illustrated captured Curry’s magic – his ability to getting amazingly hot in shooting a basketball – in these words:

The uprising starts innocuously. A ragged warmup, a swollen deficit, a sidelined teammate … a hard foul, a gnawed mouthpiece … a shot off the back rim, a smirk, a correction … a wet jumper, and another, and a feeling … a pull-up in transition, a one-legged leaner, a moonbeam from 27 feet … a high-step, a shoulder-shimmy, a point to the rafters … a mandate from the court, the bench, the stands: “Give him the ball!” … coaches scrapping rotations, opponents draining timeouts, fans spilling beers … a delirious bench, a traumatized defense, a basketball arena turned tent revival … and the 6’9″, 190-pound pixie in the middle of the madness, thinking only about his read on the next pick-and-roll, because if he ever allows himself to savor any of this, it will be gone.

What makes this man tick? Lots. Faith is part of it. He said the following in his acceptance speech for this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player award:

First and foremost, I have to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing me with the talents to play this game, with the family to support me, day in, day out. I’m his humble servant right now and I can’t say enough how important my faith is to who I am and how I play the game.

Curry revealed some other telling things in that speech. He thanked lots of people by name – wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend, coaches, teammates, team brass – and he drilled so deep into relationships that he mentioned and commented on the equipment guy and the security man. He didn’t just slide over their names; he found them in the crowd, recalled moments of care, and laughed. Curry seems to care about people, and not just the famous and powerful.

Anyone who has seen him play knows of his distinctive salute. “I pound my chest and point to the sky; it symbolizes that I have a heart for God, something that my mom and I came up with in college,” Curry said in the MVP acceptance speech. “I do it every time I step on the court as a reminder of who I’m playing for. People should know who I represent and why I am who I am, and that’s because of my Lord and savior.”

In a video testimony on the Active Faith web site, Curry talks about how his faith life began.

My parents had us in church every Sunday, every Wednesday. It was more of a tradition at that point; I didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord until I went to the altar call one Sunday and the youth pastor told us to make a decision for ourselves. The youth pastor told us we had to make a decision for ourselves, we couldn’t rely on our parents. It had to be a decision on our own, and that’s when I made it.

The biblical book of James notes that faith in Christ shows in how we live our lives. Too many people have “made a decision” for Christ, but have chosen not to really follow him. Curry is yet another example of what it means to be a true disciple of Christ – there is a personal decision, and then your life shows the decision has made a difference in how you live. You’re not perfect, but you want to go in God’s direction.

Ethics is about how we live our lives; Christian ethics is about how we live our lives for Christ.

Stephen Curry is playing better basketball than anyone else in the world right now, and he’s fun to watch. The rest of us are not on such a visible stage, but maybe Curry can inspire us to do our best in our part of the world and to give God the glory when we achieve.

Find your own chest pound and finger to the sky; let others know there is more to what is happening in your life than meets the eye. But remember that what we do – what others see – is also important.

Spiritual living connects to ethical living

(This article originally appeared on the Texas Baptist web site.)

Ethical living and spiritual living are linked; they both connect the believer to the world beyond himself or herself. The spiritual connects one to God, and the ethical deals with how one lives with others.

Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray continually. Structured prayer is difficult for many of us, but we can still cultivate a spirit of continual prayer — simply praying as we go about our daily activities.

When a person “practices the presence of God,” to quote Brother Lawrence, it is as if God becomes a friend, a companion who goes with you to all places and through all moments. A cynic could say that we are only silently conversing with ourselves. Maybe so, but this internal friend often challenges us, calls us up abruptly from selfish, prideful, greedy, lustful and hurtful thoughts and behavior. This friend never brings us down; this friend calls us to something higher. This friend seems to bring something from beyond oneself into oneself.

“The Word of God is alive,” says a Casting Crowns song, “and it cuts like a sword through the darkness with a message of life to the hopeless . . . bringing life to all who believe.” The song is speaking of the written Word — the Bible. I think of it more broadly, as the Word referring to Jesus and to the His Spirit within each of us.

God’s Spirit is alive inside the believer. This Spirit cuts through the darkness of the world even though not completely dispersing the night of evil, sin, pain and hurt. The Spirit brings hope to the hopeless, and we are all hopeless at times. The Spirit brings life, and we all feel spiritually, mentally and emotionally dead at times. Life wins when it is invested with love — love that flows from God to us and from us to each other.

Evangelism is part of ethical living

Living the Christian life is not just about morals; it includes sharing the love of Jesus Christ in hopes that others will choose to follow Christ. We call it evangelism — sharing the good news.

It may seem a little strange to say ethics includes evangelism, but it shouldn’t. Ethics is about doing what is right, about doing what we ought to do. After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) There also is his Great Commission to, “Go therefore and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19).

Ethical living for the Christian, therefore, involves evangelistic living. A related hope is that our evangelism will be pursued in an ethical manner that respects the value of all people and the freedom God has given them to choose whom they will serve, to use Joshua’s language.

We Baptists and other evangelicals are not alone in understanding the evangelistic imperatives of the body of Christ. The Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops just completed an assembly with the theme “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” and one of the wonderful things about this assembly was that a representative of the Baptist World Alliance was invited to speak.

Timothy George spoke to the bishops. George is dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. He also is chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and a member of the Advisory Committee of the BWA Division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection.

Dean George had three points:

“First, Baptists confess with all Christians a robust faith in the one triune God who in his great mercy and love has made us partakers of his divine life through Jesus Christ, the Great Evangelizer, who saves us by his grace alone. This faith is based on the inspired Holy Scriptures, God’s written Word, especially on the primal confession of St. John’s Gospel, … ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). …

“Second, the missionary God who gave the church this commission also placed before her an imperative for Christian unity. We are not only to proclaim the Good News to all peoples but to do it in a way that visibly reflects the unity and love between the Father and the Son. … By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 20:21; 13:35). … Where our witness is fractured, our message is unpersuasive, if not inaudible. Baptists and Catholics differ on important ecclesial and theological issues but we are committed to seek greater mutual understanding through a process of loving dialogue and respectful listening. …

“Third, throughout our history Baptists have been ardent champions of religious freedom, not only for ourselves, but for all persons everywhere. … Today in many places, religious freedom is under assault in many ways—some blatant and others more subtle. All Christians who take seriously Jesus’ call to evangelize must also stand and work together for the protection and flourishing of universal religious freedom, both for individuals and for institutions of faith.”

George’s final comment is important to note. We do not always make the connection between religious freedom and evangelism, but the former makes possible the flourishing of the latter.

A prayer: Help us, Lord, to understand that evangelism is part of ethical living, and help us to share our faith in ways that honor You and do not discredit You. We pray for unity among all Christians even as we have disagreements. And, Lord, we ask that religious freedom may spread throughout this world in order that Your Son may be more widely proclaimed.

Strange things hide in dark places

Life is full of little surprises. My 18-year-old daughter got such a shock the other day. She came in from school, turned the oven to preheat, and pulled a frozen mini-pizza out of the frig.

A few minutes later the buzzer sounded to declare the oven ready at 350 degrees. With pizza on pan, my daughter opened the oven only to find that something else already was cooking — our toaster. I can happily report to you that a Hamilton-Beach Model 24508 four-slice toaster can survive extreme heat. The plastic shell and the electrical wiring didn’t melt, but the metal part was very hot, as my daughter can attest.

With two cooking gloves as if seizing a cooked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, she removed the well-baked toaster from the oven. Not, of course, until she had photographed it for Facebook submission. That’s how I learned of the event.

So, how did that toaster come to be in the most unlikely of places, a place where no one in our family had ever seen a toaster before?

Well, I don’t want to throw anyone in our family under the proverbial bus, but we hosted a wedding shower Sunday afternoon. Cleaning, of course, precedes any entertaining, and sometimes there simply is not enough room for the stuff that normally finds residence on the counter. I actually think it was quite a creative approach to an age-old problem.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Be careful what you try to hide because someone is liable to find out and then tell the world about it via Facebook, and then your goose is cooked. (I couldn’t help using the pun.)

All of that was in good fun, but there is a serious principle behind this. Jesus said: “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:20-21, NRSV)

A prayer: Help us, Lord, to live lives that are more and more fit for the light of day to shine upon them and to reveal their deeds.

May we, Lord, be more like Jesus

Opening an old book is like opening a treasure chest. When it comes to old non-fiction, it’s like stepping back in time to see what someone had to say and how they said. It may be something we have culturally forgotten.

I went back 87 years the other day to Ernest Ward Burch’s The Ethical Teaching of the Gospels, published in 1925. Here are some of his words, coupled with my passing thoughts and prayers:

“Jesus was more than a teacher of morals. He was a moral leader. Men who committed his teaching to writing and at the same time revealed their impressions of his personality assure their readers that the man was indeed the message.” (13)

Today we quote Jesus’ words, but our thoughts also are captured by the images painted by the gospel writers. We can visualize Jesus healing countless people, confronting the woman at the well, tossing the money changers from the temple, weeping over a friend’s death, and hanging on a cross. There is a great lesson hear for those who speak much about God.May our lives proclaim the same message.

“The power to produce an ethical behavior of effective and constructive standard is the spirit of a man, itself under the power of a controlling force other than the man himself but closely identified with him.” (121, referring to Matthew 15)

The will of the Father guided Jesus, but we struggle to give over our wills to the Father. May we be more closely identified with the Holy Other.

“The moral thought of Jesus was not cast into any system. His was not the type of mind that delights in logical refinements, but, rather, he is seen to be a social prophet, busy in shepherding the neglected and in encouraging the poor and the disheartened. …

“The moral principles of Jesus have sometimes been systematized by later writers, but he himself appears in the Gospels to be the minister of all, whose eye was clear for the discernment of any need that was buttressed by faith, whose ear was attentive to the sigh of discouragement and to the faint cry for help. Jesus was, it may be, the poet of the waving wheat, of the rippling wave, of the lily of the field, of the falling sparrow, whose tragedy was not lost upon his Father, and of the glistening raindrop or the shining sun, which betokened to him the generous provision of God for his enemies as well as his friends. But the mind of Jesus was not that of the systematic teacher.”  (233-234)

And in those words Burch uses the English language in a beautiful refrain that often is missing from more contemporary writers. May we also have clear eyes for the discernment of need and have attentive ears to the sighs of discouragement and to the faint cries for help.

Jesus is the poet of our lives, speaking beauty into the ugly and magnificence into the mundane. May we allow the Divine Poet to speak through us, as well.

Maston, on how to glorify God

The Christian’s highest motivation in life should be to glorify God, said the late Baptist ethicist, T. B. Maston.

Scripture reveals two concepts concerning the glory of God, Maston wrote in his book, Why Live the Christian Life?. First, it frequently involved “some physical phenomenon” indicating God’s presence. Second, it involved God’s moral excellence or character, which is particularly important in understanding the Christian life.

“God’s radiance and splendor are most fully revealed by his character,” Maston said. So, how do we bring glory to God?

Jesus, in Matthew 5:16, said: “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

We glorify God by letting our light shine before others. “A light does not shine to call attention to itself,” Maston said. “It shines that others may be seen. The Christian does not carry a light; he is a light, the light of the world.”

Then, Maston added, “We shine only to the degree that we permit the Divine Inner Light to touch and transform our lives.”

That is what motivates us — growing in our relationship with God so that others will give glory to God, who is shaping us and who can shape them.

Better ethics rules needed at all levels of government

Ethical standards can be high or low. The following activities were considered ethical by the offending members of Congress, according to a story in The Washington Post:

“A California congressman helped secure tax breaks for racehorse owners — then purchased seven horses for himself when the new rules kicked in.

“A Wyoming congresswoman co-sponsored legislation to double the life span of federal grazing permits that ranchers such as her husband rely on to feed cattle.

“And a Pennsylvania congressman co-sponsored a natural gas bill as Exxon Mobil negotiated a deal that paid millions for his wife’s shares in two natural gas companies founded by her great-great-grandfather.”

Such stories tend to confirm our fears about many who represent us in government. It appears these members of Congress did nothing considered wrong under the ethical rules they have established for themselves.

As you would expect, the three incidents noted above are not the only questionable activities the Post uncovered. They were “among 73 members of Congress who have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested.” That’s 73 out of the 535 members of the House and Senate.

“The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries. The financial disclosure system Congress has implemented also does not require the legislators to identify potential conflicts at the time that they take official actions that intersect or overlap with their investments.”

“Members of Congress contact the House and Senate ethics offices thousands of times each year to seek legal advice on a range of activities, including their work on legislation that might pose a conflict. Between 2007 and 2011, lawyers for the two committees issued at least 2,800 written opinions to lawmakers, sent 6,500 e-mails containing advice and provided guidance over the phone 40,000 times, according to records kept by the two committees.

“The committees rarely discipline their own, instead providing advisory opinions that generally give support and justification to lawmakers who take actions that intersect with their personal financial holdings, according to interviews with nearly a dozen ethics experts and government watchdog groups. And though Congress has required top executive branch officials to divest themselves of assets that may present a conflict, lawmakers have not asked the same of themselves.”

It’s time we had better rules for all lawmakers at all levels of government–from the president to school board members. With tighter rules about profiting from government work, we might get more lawmakers committed to the promoting the common good, not their personal and family wealth.

By the way, the guy who bought the horses is no longer in Congress. He now works for a “large lobbying firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, whose client list is broad and in recent years has included gambling companies that own racetracks, lobbying records show.”

The “Lie Factory” is still in business

Election year warning: Everything you hear and read is not necessarily true – especially when it comes to TV advertising, direct-mail campaigns and speeches. The news media help us sort through the political fog, but it is going to take some work to get to the truth.

There are, however, some highly paid people out there betting that we will not be willing to work to get to the truth. They’re convinced we will take whatever they say as true. They are paid political consultants, and they work for both political parties.

It all started with two Californians – Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, founders of Campaigns, Inc., in 1933. Most of us have never heard of this couple, but they shaped modern political campaigning. A new article in The New Yorker titled, “The Lie Factory: How politics became a business,” tells the story of Campaigns, Inc. Read it and you will hear its reverberations in today’s political advertising.

Baxter and Whitaker made their reputation by orchestrating the defeat of Upton Sinclair in his 1934 run for governor of California. They were hired two months before the election, devoured all of Sinclair’s writings, and then took quotes from his fiction and attributed them to Sinclair, as if they were the author’s words not the fictional character’s. The quotes ran every day on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Baxter later said, ”Sure, those quotations were irrelevant. But we had one objective: to keep him from becoming Governor.”

The New Yorker story says:

“No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting, an industry unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first people to make politics a business. … Political management is now a diversified, multibillion dollar industry of managers, speechwriters, pollsters, and advertisers who play a role in everything from this year’s Presidential race to the campaigns of the candidates for your local school committee.”

Well, the reference to school board elections is probably a stretch on The New Yorker’s part, at least in non-metro areas, but there is no doubting the broad influence political consultants now play in American politics.

“Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book,” The New Yorker says. And see if some of that “rule book” doesn’t seem to be behind today’s political messages. Here’s the magazine’s description:

“Never lobby; woo voters instead. ‘Our conception of practical politics is that if you have a sound enough case to convince the folks back home, you don’t have to buttonhole the Senator,’ Baxter explained.  Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one. … Attack, attack, attack. Whitaker said, ‘You can’t wage a defensive campaign and win!’

“Never underestimate the opposition. . . . Every campaign needs a theme. Keep it simple. Rhyming’s good. . . . Never explain anything. ‘The more you have to explain,’ Whitaker said, ‘the more difficult it is to win support.’ Say the same thing over and over again. ‘We assume we have to get a voter’s attention seven times to make a sale,’ Whitaker said. Subtlety is your enemy. . . . ‘A wall goes up,’ Whitaker warned, ‘’when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.’

“Fan flames. ‘We need more partisanship in this country,’ Whitaker said. Never shy from controversy; instead, win the controversy. ’ The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen,’ Whitaker advised. ‘But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign, and only two that we have ever found successful.’ You can put on a fight (‘he likes a good hot battle, with no punches pulled’’), or you can put on a show (‘he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades’): ‘So if you can’t fight, Put ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.’

“Winner takes all. ‘If you launch a campaign for a new car, your client doesn’t expect you to lead the field necessarily in the first year, or even the tenth year,’ Whitaker once said. ‘But in politics, they don’t pay off for PLACE OR SHOW! You have to win, if you want to stay in business.’”

That philosophy, set forth decades ago, shows why politicians campaign as they do today and why they govern as they do. “Winner takes all.”

If these techniques are still effective, I guess it means Mr. and Mrs. Average American citizen still doesn’t want to work or think. It is, however, something that can be changed – by each of us.

Holt: Thirsty for God

There is a great deal of talk about spirituality in today’s North American culture. Much of it is associated with what typically are called Eastern or New Age forms of religious expression, but Bradley P. Holt, in his book, Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality, shows that spirituality has been part of Christian theology and practice since the very earliest days of the faith.

It also was part of the church’s first great global expansion after the death of Jesus, its contraction to Europe and Western culture, and now its worldwide spread again. Christianity is a religion with a rich spiritual heritage, and Holt offers a roadmap of sorts to begin understanding that heritage.

Holt sets out to “survey the variety of Christian spirituality in both space and time.” The story of Christian spirituality covers two millennia and five continents. It deals with both the inner life and the connection of that inner life with how one lives in the world, and the survey tracks closely with the theological issues of particular times and places. The author also states on page 12 that his aim is to “bring together two fields of knowledge that do not often connect”—the history of European Christian spirituality and the study of missions and new indigenous movements.

“Spirituality” is a word used across varied religions, but Holt deals with Christian spirituality, which he describes as both a “particular style” of discipleship and a “style of walking in the Holy Spirit.  “It therefore involves the whole of life, not some private segment. It is our relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the creation.” Christian spirituality should keep those four relationships in balance, but much of church history has “focused on God and others, distorting the relationships to self and creation.” These four relationships provide a backdrop for the entire book.

The study of the tradition and present-day reality of Christian spirituality serves three functions, Holt says. First, it makes “us aware of our own narrowness, our own parochialism.” Second, it displays a variety of approaches to the subject. And, third, it “presents norms and boundaries for that variety.”

There are both theological and practical norms, the author says. He comes closest to stating theological norms on page 127 when he says he expects an “authentic theology to reflect the Scriptures; to give a central role for Jesus as the Christ; to value faith, hope, and love; to be understandable within its culture; and to challenge the idols of that culture.” Practical norms have to do with how helpful a practice is in a given situation.

The book is structured in eight chapters. Between introductory and concluding chapters, the author essentially progresses through Christian history, beginning with the Bible and then moving to an initial global stage before focusing on Europe and North America before a twentieth century chapter that includes spiritualities associated with other continents.

“What then shall we do?” Holt asks on page 129. “Having a wider horizon for our practice of the Christian life, it is up to each of us to select, to experiment, to evaluate, to adapt. A kind of knowledge is available to us from books, but personal knowledge, the kind that really counts, can come only from experience.”

Holt definitely achieves his purpose of providing an introduction to Christian spirituality by giving brief glimpses of many theological and practical movements and the key practitioners in those movements. The names associated with Christian spirituality in the early church and Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East are all here—Tertullian, Origen, Antony, Augustine, Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Thomas  a Kempis, and George Fox, to name but a few. And he adds to that list some names that will not be as familiar to a North American audience—Gustavo Gutierrez, Kosuke Koyama, and others. The names of all of the many spiritual leaders he sites are listed in a helpful “Time Line” appendix. The list includes the names of more obscure personalities from the West and some well known figures who are generally thought of as great theologians.

The author weaves this story of spirituality very closely with the story of Christian theology, and this is a helpful connection. For instance, in dealing with the spirituality of Martin Luther on page 71, Holt says, “Luther called for a ‘spirituality of the cross’ as well as a ‘theology of the cross.’” He says Luther believed that in Christ’s crucifixion God reveals his loving grace to humankind—a theological point. He then says, “A spirituality of the cross likewise is a following of Jesus through suffering and pain, not a triumphal vicarious thrill that elevates one to the heavens.”

Holt provides a similar connection with John Calvin’s teachings. The famous Reformation theologian “taught that humans are joined to Christ in baptism and that people grow in that union throughout life,” Holt says on page 74. From that theological point Calvin moves to the spiritual with the idea that “mystical union is given to all Christians by faith. … Thus every Christian is a ‘mystic,’ living in union with Christ. …”

The author goes back to the New Testament to provide his own theological connection to spirituality. “Whatever else the Bible says about God this is relevant for spirituality, this is fundamental. God is to be loved with the whole self,” Holt says on page 17. Then, he adds, “Spirituality is welcoming this love into our lives; allowing it to change our habits, feelings, and thoughts; and thus returning the love to God who started it.” While Thirsty for God is primarily a survey of Christian history, connections such as this by Holt make the book helpful for the believer who desires to connect right theology with right spiritual practice.

Christians in the West typically think of spirituality as dealing with the interior life of prayer, meditation, contemplation, and possibly worship. Holt deals with those aspects of spirituality, but he also is persistent in connecting these spiritual experiences with outward expressions of Christian love and activity in the culture. “It is important not to separate ethics from spirituality, lest spirituality be a private escape from the real world, a self-fulfillment at the cost of others,” he says on page 20 in his discussion of spirituality in the New Testament. “Ethics and spirituality belong together.” It would be hard, however, to support this connection in looking at some of the great spiritual leaders of the past who withdrew from their cultural context, for instance with the desert fathers, but many others definitely made the connection, such as Francis of Assisi.

Origen actually coupled the ethical, theological, and spiritual, Holt says on page 36. Origen set forth three-stages of the Christian life—moral, natural, and contemplative. The first has to do with behavior, the second with the intellect, and the third with spiritual union with God.

These are helpful connections for the Christian context of North America today because it provides a balanced, holistic means of seeking to understand the Christian life. It also can break down some of the fears of and resistance to spirituality when it is simply seen as otherworldly experience often associated only with Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

The ethical component connects to another of Holt’s emphases—the relationship of spirituality and Christian living to culture. “This book asserts that it is possible to be authentically Christian in any culture,” he said on page 96. “There will indeed be tension between Christianity and any culture …, but there will also be gifts that every culture can bring to the understanding of Christianity. …” Holt illustrates this in relation to the early years of Christian globalization on page 49 when he says, “Christianity in the early centuries developed in a number of cultures and was expressed somewhat differently in each of them. The foundational developments occurred not only in Greek and Latin contexts, but in Syriac and other lesser-known contexts.” This has happened in more recent decades as the churches in Africa and Asia have slipped the bonds of European Christianity with the passing of colonialism.

This is a fundamentally important subtext to Holt’s book—that other cultures have much to offer in understanding Christian spirituality. The reason this is important is because of the Enlightenment’s impact on Western thought in general and Western Christianity in particular. Holt is convinced that the Enlightenment is what separates the West from the rest of the world. (84) “Missionaries from the North Atlantic countries generally taught Christianity on the basis of their own post-Enlightenment, modern assumptions and addressed their answers to the kinds of questions they were accustomed to at home,” Holt says on page 109. “Christianity became a classroom religion of many people. It taught reading and writing and the correct answers to the question in the catechism,  … but it often did not address the questions Africans raised.” He probably would say the same thing about questions raised in Latin America and Asia. Understanding such differences offers a way forward as East and West, North and South are more frequently being brought into contact with one another. The potential for a more fully orbed understanding of the spiritual life and Christianity in general is made possible by these coming together of cultures.

The potential benefits of this can be illustrated by some speculation. Metaphors of light are often used to speak of God and spiritual understanding. There are related metaphors that speak of cleansed souls being made white as snow. There is nothing wrong with these metaphors, and they have often been seen as very helpful by Caucasians. On the other hand, darkness is often associated with evil. There is nothing wrong with such metaphors, but what impact does such imagery have on darker-skinned persons? Then, in Thirsty for God, the reader encounters a European mystic, John of the Cross, who uses the “dark night” as a metaphor to “describe the inability of the intellect to grasp God and to describe the experience of the soul on its journey to the mountaintop, to union with God.” Suddenly, the light-skinned person is jarred with a new way of seeing darkness, and the dark-skinned person is brightened with a positive image relating darkness to intimacy with God. Such things are important in bridging cultural barriers.

The author helps break down another misconception of spirituality when he speaks of its communal aspects. Part of spiritual practice includes heavy doses of solitude, silence, and stillness, but this is not the whole picture, Holt says. Christian spirituality is “not only personal but communal,” he says on page 20. “The Bible does not know of separating individuals from the people of Israel or from the church; our relations with God are as members of a body, not as isolated individuals.” And this connects spirituality to corporate worship. The church began this way in its earliest years as it adapted Jewish synagogue worship to a Christian context. Worship was next exercised in small groups and eventually in large congregations. (26) Holt points out that corporate worship is the primary means of spirituality in the Anglican tradition. The importance of corporate worship is one of the ways in which Christian spirituality is differentiated from Hindu and Buddhist spirituality.

One of the most helpful aspects of Holt’s text is his discussion of various metaphors of spirituality. It is impossible to delineate them all here, but he groups the metaphors in helpful patterns. For instance, the process of Christian living is illustrated by growth, unification, and healing, which all describe gradual changes. (125) Each conveys different nuances of Christian living, and they become even more powerful when considered together. Each stands alone, but each gives richer meaning to the spirituality behind Christian living.

Holt has written a very assessable text both in length and complexity, or the lack thereof. It provides an introduction to the subject with all of the strengths and weaknesses normally associated with such types of literature. Since he is covering such a broad subject spanning millennia and continents, and he has done so in relatively few pages, the condensing is substantial. He gives more space to the more influential persons, while some persons or movements receive only a paragraph. This actually is a strength of the book because Holt provides some quick, helpful information on these figures. It can help direct a person’s further reading or provide a quick introduction to such reading.

At the beginning of the book, Holt says, “Spirituality is easily misunderstood.” This is partly because it is a “transreligious” word not tied to a single faith. “Furthermore, ‘spirituality’ looks suspicious to some Christians because it sounds like ‘do-it-yourself’ salvation,” he says on page 2. Because it can be misunderstood but yet is an important part of Christian tradition from the earliest decades, it is important to understand spirituality. Holt’s survey can be part of that understanding. A reader likely will come away from the book no longer afraid of the term or its practice. Better yet, it can be hoped that the reader will come away with a growing desire to pursue varied spiritual practices in a way that honors Christ.

Today’s North American culture has a high degree of openness to spirituality. It generally reflects a dissatisfaction with organized religion coupled with a sense that there is more to reality than can be comprehended through reason and the sciences. This presents an opportunity for those interested in pursuing the New Testament Great Commission of making disciples of Christ. When Christians realize that “organized” is not the most important adjective to modify the noun “religion,” that “spiritual” may be the most essential modifier, then the church of Jesus Christ may stand ready again to have a substantial impact not only on people’s spiritual lives but on their cultural lives, as well. Holt provides readers with a primer for such a change by helping the cognitive part of their minds to understand the tradition and present day reality of Christian spirituality. The other essential steps are for readers to actually experience such spirituality and then to let it affect how they live their lives.

Keller: Doing justice in the public square

“When Christians do evangelism, they can only count on the support and understanding of other believers. But when believers seek to do justice in the world, they often find it both necessary and desirable to work with others who do not share their faith.” (p.148)

Timothy Keller

Thus Timothy Keller begins an insightful and much-needed chapter on public discourse in his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. He maintains that while most people see themselves as just, there is disagreement on what justice is.

“… [I]n our society naming something a ‘justice issue’ is a kind of trump card. … [T]here is no defense. …

“There’s a big problem with this move, however. …

“The reason it is not convincing to simply cry ‘injustice!’ is that our society is deeply divided over the very definition of justice. Nearly everyone thinks they are on justice’s side. … Democrats think of it more in collective terms. … Republicans think of justice more individualistically. …

“The fact is that the word ‘justice’ does not have a definition in our culture that we can all agree on.  So we just use it as a bludgeon.” (pp.149-150)

The author then talks about competing visions of justice and invokes a number of writers in making various points. Part of this comes from the perspective that in secular academia there is no place for religious discussion and thus basic underlying principles are ignored. Keller, of course, has a different perspective. “… [O]ur ideas of justice are rooted in views of life that are nonprovable faith assumptions.” (p.155)

Keller then quotes Steven D. Smith: “The secular vocabulary within which public discourse is constrained to operate today is insufficient to convey our full set of normative convictions and commitments.” (p.155 in Keller, from Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, p.39)

Keller summarizes thus:

“The rules of secular discourse lead us to smuggle moral value judgments into our reasoning about justice without admitting it to others or even to ourselves. And so the deeper discussions over the true points of difference never happen.” (p.156)

He invokes Michael Sandel’s argument about abortion rights here to illustrate the point then follows with this:

“So if our society gives women the freedom to have abortions, it is because we also have made a moral determination. Sandel concludes: ‘It is not enough to say that the law should be neutral on moral and religious questions. The case for permitting abortion is no more neutral than the case for banning it. Both positions presuppose some answer to the underlying moral and religious controversy.’

“Sandel, who is not a religious believer and who is a supporter of abortion rights, concludes that justice is always ‘judgmental.’ Beneath all accounts of justice are sets of essentially religious assumptions that we are not allowed to admit or discuss, and so our society stays in a deadlock over these issues. We can’t agree on what justice is because we can’t talk about our underlying beliefs.” (pp.157-158)

Keller then begins to pull this chapter together by talking about cooperation and provocation. I love it.

“I propose that Christians’ work for justice should be characterized by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation.

“Christian believers have many temptations to be neither humble nor cooperative with others. Believers have many of the criteria for a righteous and just life laid out in the Bible. How easy it would be to disdain all non-Christian accounts of justice as being useless, just as many secular people dismiss religious belief.” (p.158)

“… [A]ccording to the Bible, virtue, rights, and the common good are all crucial aspects of justice.” (p.159)

“As a result of this general revelation, Christians believe that there is much ‘common grace’ in every culture. The implication of James 1:17 is that God scatters gifts of wisdom, goodness, justice, and beauty across all the human race, regardless of people’s beliefs. … This grace is called common because it is given to all, not just those who have found salvation in Jesus Christ. …” (p.160)

“When we speak publicly, we should do so with thoughtfulness and grace, in recognition that Christians are not the only ones who see what needs to be done in the world.” (p.161)

And he finishes with a point that it so needed. He doesn’t say it, but one of the myths of our contemporary American culture is that “you can’t legislate morality.” That’s ridiculous. All laws are expression of moral judgments.

Keller includes a quote here from President. “Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christi an tradition.” (p.169) Then Keller finishes the chapter.

“The pursuit of justice in society is never morally neutral, but is always based on understandings of reality that are essentially religious in nature. Christians should not be strident and condemning in their language or attitude, but neither should they be silent about the Biblical roots of their passion for justice.” (p.169)

(This is my eighth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)